The American Film Institute's Silver Theatre pulls off a neat trick. The downtown Silver Spring movie house manages to be ultra-modern and charmingly old-fashioned at the same time. It's a place that hasn't forgotten its roots -- the original Silver opened in 1938 -- but also celebrates all the cinematic technology the new millennium has to offer.
When it officially opened to the public April 11, 2003, the Silver Theatre became what Montgomery County Executive Doug Duncan calls "the crown jewel" in the long-awaited revitalization of the Silver Spring area. For those who have lived through decades of failed attempts to redevelop that region (three words: American Dream Mall) or waited anxiously for a place that celebrates excellence in film, this sparkling new theater may be the Great Silver Hope.
Screening a variety of foreign films, documentaries and classics, the Silver also hosts numerous special events, such as the SilverDocs film festival. If you're unfamiliar with Silver Spring, don't worry about finding the place. The red glow and silver gleam of the refurbished marquee on Colesville Road are visible from blocks away, making the Silver almost impossible to miss.
The building houses three theaters. The largest and grandest is the 400-seat AFI Silver I, the historic auditorium that has been carefully refurbished so as not to lose the character of the original. Filled with art deco touches, it feels like an old-time movie house, the kind you were either lucky enough to visit as a child or that you heard about from your grandparents. Magnificent brown and taupe drapes complete the scene, opening majestically to reveal a 41-foot-wide screen. Tech-heads will also happily note that the AFI is capable of presenting almost every film format known to man, from 70mm to digital video.
A hallway to the left of the Silver I leads patrons to two more theaters, two concession stands and the cafe area, where tables, chairs and a separate service counter await those who want to linger after the credits roll. Many patrons will likely pause along this walkway, taking in its brightly lit displays of movie posters and historic items from the original Silver, shuttered in the 1980s until its recent revitalization.
The other two theaters are both THX-certified and feature stadium-seating. The Silver II boasts 200 seats, while the smaller Silver III accommodates up to 75. Given the majesty of the refurbished Silver and the quality of the films that will grace its screens, we think this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship between AFI and Washington area movie fans.
-- Jen Chaney, updated Sept. 16, 2003